As the Sri Lankan Tamils issue threatened to erupt into a major election plank, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi went on a sudden fast demanding a ceasefire in the island, but called it off six hours later following Colombo's announcement that the combat operations have concluded.
In a surprise move, the Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam patriarch went to the Anna memorial on the Marina beach and embarked on an indefinite fast at approximately 6 am, saying he preferred to be yet another 'victim' of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse, whose army, he alleged, was killing Tamils.
"'Let me be one of his victims. This is my sacrifice for the cause of Tamils," he told reporters at the fast site, thronged by senior party leaders and workers. As party leaders and workers held solidarity fasts across the state, Karunanidhi dramatically ended the fast at about 30 minutes after noon, saying the Sri Lankan government has announced an end to the war in the north parts of the island.
Home Minister P Chidambaram said the Sri Lankan government's decision "means cessation of hostilities. It means to the government of India that the Sri Lankan government has put an end to the ongoing offensive."
As he began the fast, Karunanidhi told reporters, "I was eagerly waiting for an announcement from the Sri Lankan government throughout Sunday night. I did not even sleep last night. When nothing came, I decided to become one of the victims of Rajapakse".
He was under mounting pressure, specially after All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader Jayalalithaa made a radical shift in her party's position and supported the formation of Tamil Eelam, to end the decades-long ethnic strife in Sri Lanka.
Karunanidhi's fast was seen as a move to take the wind out of the opposition's sails as the AIADMK-led lliance charged the DMK with not doing enough to mitigate the sufferings of the Lankan Tamils despite being part of the UPA.
His sudden move came after LTTE, cornered in a small stretch of territory in the embattled north along with several thousands of civilians, declared a unilateral ceasefire which Colombo dismissed as a 'joke'.
Soon after Karunanidhi began his fast, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi spoke to him, expressing their concern over his move. Dr Singh also assured Karunanidhi that his government was in constant touch with the Sri Lankan government, pressurising it to announce a ceasefire and provide humanitarian aid to the Lankan Tamils who escaped from the 'clutches' of the LTTE, DMK sources said.
Karunanidhi's decision took even his family by surprise, sources said. DMK Parliamentarians made separate appeals to the Centre and Colombo, to bring about a permanent ceasefire, stating that their leader undertook the fast against medical advice 'risking his precious life.'
In telegrams sent to President Pratibha Patil, Prime Minister, United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, DMK's MPs said their leader had undergone a 'serious spinal cord surgery recently' and undertaken the fast 'despite medical advice'.
"He is risking his precious life for the cause of the Sri Lankan Tamils," the MPs said, appealing to them to put 'heavy pressure' on the Sri Lankan President (Mahinda Rajapakse) for putting an end to the on-going hostilities and (ensure) a permanent ceasefire'.
It was due to the UPA government's efforts that the Sri Lankan government had agreed to end combat operations, Karunanidhi said, while expressing hope that the army would now be employed for the relief and rehabilitation process.
As news of Karunanidhi's fast spread, DMK leaders and workers launched fasts in different parts of the state, with his son M K Azhagiri observing the protest in Madurai, from where he is contesting the Lok Sabha elections.